Decades ago, a group of pediatricians and statisticians, doing what both professional groups do so well, collaborated on a formula for the ‘recommended’ birth time for children to ensure that adequate time is given for the first child to grow, develop, reaps tons of attention, and be mentally and emotionally best capable to welcome the birth of the following sibling in the family. The recommendation was, as I recall to the best of my own knowledge and relying heavily upon what my husband said at the time (an engineer, go figure!) that there should be three and a half years’ time between siblings. Both statistically, logically and emotionally, this is quite an intriguing idea.
The first-time parents have oodles of time to spend adoring their firstborn and paying tons of attention to her/him. Along the way, they accumulate quite a wealth of knowledge as well as baby accoutrements: breast feeding, sleep training, how soon to get rid of the family pet who keeps stealing the baby’s favorite plush animal (after the first growl of discontent, on the part of the pet), tons of baby clothes, bedding, crib(s), strollers, charming but often vastly overpriced crib mobiles and/or educational baby toys. (It does not take very long to learn that most often, Baby gets just as much, if not more, of a kick by playing with the boxes in which the toys and clothing came in.) They have spent eight months playing Mozart, Beethoven or perhaps Hole or Fuel on cd’s strapped to the expectant mommy’s tummy; those tapes aren’t going anywhere, and neither, for the most part, are most of the baby accessories. The timing gives Mom and Dad ample opportunity to fully realize potty training, truly one of the most amazing personal accomplishments on this earth. Baby, meanwhile, is in his/her glory: two fully grown humans who dote on their every wish, who read books about raising them, who attend seminars and parenting workshops and network extensively to select proper playmates and playdates for them. Those 20 or 30 extra pounds that Mom put on melt away after breastfeeding and enrollment in a good ‘Mommy and Me’ playgroup. (Just running around gathering up the blanket, extra wipes and diapers, change of clothing – possibly for both of you – and loading everything up either in the stroller or the minivan is good for a 2 – 3 pound drop right there.)
Three and a half years’ of glorious, glorious times. A babysitter for one, please? No problem! One child – especially one who sleeps a lot – is a delight to most potential sitters. And the baby can also be toted along for vacations, road trips and family holidays. A single baby/toddler is a joy for most folks to be around; they’re cute, they’re cuddly, and, in most cases, somewhat precocious from all that time and attention the parents have spent with the child. Hooray life!
As then…it may be as simple as sitting at your desk or kitchen table mapping out the details for Child’s fourth birthday party, it hits you. You both terribly, terribly miss that ‘new baby’ smell: those chubby little fingers clutching yours, that soft, warm neck, those huge, idolizing eyes, that sense of pure and utter helplessness, totally dependent upon you. (Child #1, in the meantime, has a full social calendar of his/her own: pre-school, play dates, little sports camps and activities for soccer, gym, maybe even tennis if you’re in that income bracket. Little Johnny or Susie (or Pluto, Moonstruck, Camembert or whatever distinctive name you’ve chosen) doesn’t ‘need’ his mommy or daddy nearly as much; they are now their own little person(s). This newfound indepdence leads to parents getting that ol’ baby urge again – pretty much exactly the same time that those pesky but unfortunately pretty predictable ‘birth order’ rule said…
In our family’s case, the timing couldn’t have worked out better for us. I was 36 and into my second (and current!) marriage when I had our first daughter, now 19. She was the light of our lives, the baby we had so badly longed for after three miscarriages. She was literally our dreams come true.
The first couple of years were, frankly, rather interesting. My husband and I share somewhat differeing parenting styles. I was all for rules and some forms of discipline; my husband was always there for his ‘little girl’ who could do no wrong. He was 41 when she was born; she was the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of wanting to be a father. Despite sometimes rollicking and contentious ‘debates’ about raising our girl, those were good times, very, very good times. I am happy to say that she is now a bright, beautiful, charming (albeit somewhat schizophrenic about the true value of the American dollar) young lady, of whom we are very, very proud.
I had our second child shortly after I was forty. With this child, we wanted to know the baby’s sex, which we had opted out of for our first baby. We had one daughter already, and a second was on its way. My husband, bless his heart and soul, was very, very pleased that he’d had yet another female in the house. “You know, at our ages, it’ll be great for them to be close as sisters. They’ll always have each other, even after we’re gone.” (It did take me some time to recover from the shock of actually hearing someone tell me that my days, perhaps, were indeed numbered.) The birth of our second girl, as was my pregnancy itself, was remarkably simple and healthy. The only slight glitch was that Baby #2 weighed in at 9 pounds, 6 ounces, far more than our 6 pound, 4 ounce elder daughter, at birth. We are also extremely proud of our lovely second daughter – who now stands a graceful 5’11 3/4″ (we make careful to ensure that her ‘official’ height stays in under six feet!)
Despite and truly because of the difference in their ages, myh daughters really do appreciate each other as sisters and as friends. The line between ‘big sister’ and younger is firmly established. They learn, they grow, they share secrets even now together. One draws upon the strenghts of the other…
By following our plan in the birthing order, I can honestly say that it was a wonderful experience – and the right one, at least for us. Both girls are now teenagers, both girls share common interests (and a lot of clothes!), including boyfriends who are eerily physically and socially very much alike. They enjoy double-dating together – honest! Perhaps one of the more telling tales that our girls will always be there for each other, in good times and in bad, was something that happened when Oldest Daughter was 7 and Younger Daughter was 3 1/2. We had taken them to an amusement park in one of our favorite vacation spots, Ocean City, Maryland. They absolutely adored amusement parks; older daughter was a bit more timid, younger daughter more brazen and a risk-taker, so they were a great source of comfort to each other on a variety of rides. They were about to get into the car of a little train ride that rode around for a 10-minute ride. Older Daughter bounded into her seat in the second car, with Younger Daughter right behind her. Somehow, a little boy about 4 years old started to wedge himself into the seat next to our oldest. Using her mighty elbow, Youngest Daughter, then a toddler, literally muscled him out of the seat, forcing him to ride in the car behind ‘the sisters’…no one got between her and her big sister….
Not a day goes by when I don’t thank God that we were fortunate enough to ‘space’ our daughters’ births in an order that gave us equal time to spend with them as infants and toddlers, to have the emotional, financial and physical resources to do the best job that we could as parents, and the precious, precious time that we needed to see each of them as individuals and to learn to love and respect them for the individuals that they are.